The use of the internet and technology is today’s reality. New technologies are fundamentally changing the lives of children in the twenty-first century. Children are among the most frequent users of new digital and online services. They can socialise, explore, learn and engage in creative activities on the internet. But the more time children spend online, the greater the risks and dangers they face.
Numerous studies have shown that excessive use of technology is bad for our physical, social and mental well-being. One of the biggest risks is the misuse of the internet and information technologies, and children are vulnerable to Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA). OCSEA refers to a variety of sexually exploitative and harmful behaviours that take place or are facilitated online and through the use of information technologies.
It is the government’s responsibility to protect children from OCSEA. Child Online Protection (COP) refers to the measures and steps needed to protect children from harm and exploitation through the use of these information technologies. However, ensuring online safety is a major challenge for the Pakistani government, which has to address many complex policy issues, such as how to mitigate the risks without limiting the opportunities and benefits of the internet for children. Online grooming, sharing of child sexual abuse material and live streaming of child abuse are all crimes against children that require an immediate, multi-sectoral and global response.
Pakistan is the 8th largest population of internet users in the world (PTA 2022). At the start of 2022, internet penetration in Pakistan stood at 36.5% of the total population, i.e. 82.90 million internet users with 71.70 million active social media users (1).There were increase of 22 million (35.9%) internet users in Pakistan between 2021 and 2022 (2). Data from GSMA Intelligence shows that there were 186.9 million cellular mobile connections in Pakistan at the start of 2022.
The rise of information and communication technologies (ICT), including the internet, has opened up many positive opportunities for adults and children around the world. They can share materials and experiences in unprecedented ways and transcend the physical, geographical and temporal boundaries of human interaction. The increasing prevalence of internet access, mobile technology and the growing number of internet-enabled devices – combined with the immense resources found in cyberspace – provide unprecedented opportunities for learning, sharing and communicating.
Nowadays, many children have integrated their lives with a mobile phone, video games and the internet. Although the technology offers tremendous benefits, children can also face a number of risks. Children may be exposed to inappropriate content for their age or inappropriate contacts when children are exposed to violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation – a risk that is growing exponentially with the rapidly increasing use of technology (3). The internet’s new audio and video facilities expose children to all manner of evil and also provide criminals with a variety of ways to target, exploit and abuse children.
Categories Of Risks
According to the OECD typology of risks (4), there are four emerging risk categories to which parents, educators and children should be alert.
Content risks: These include hateful, harmful or illegal content and disinformation.
Conduct risks: These refer to children’s own behaviour and conduct that can make them vulnerable, e.g. in the case of sexting or cyberbullying.
Contact risks: These include online predators, sex trafficking and cyber-grooming, which are a growing problem in all countries.
Consumer risks: such as inappropriate marketing messages and online fraud.
The typology also recognises risks that cut across all risk categories and are seen as highly problematic, as they can significantly affect children’s lives in a variety of ways.
Privacy risks: Many children do not yet understand what privacy information they are receiving and the value of their personal data.
Advanced Technologies Risks: The use of AI-based technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT) and extended virtual reality (XR) pose further risks. The immersive virtual worlds within the metaverse bring new and increased threats, many of which are not yet well understood.
Health and wellbeing risks: The potential negative impact of the digital environment on children’s health and well-being has caused great public concern.
These developments have raised legitimate concerns about the danger posed by easy availability of explicit content, online child sexual abuse and exploitation, the associated challenges in detecting and dealing with online perpetrators and, most importantly, the task of identifying and supporting affected children. The situation is further exacerbated by limited awareness and gender biased social norms.
Recent incidents of technology facilitated violence against children have highlighted the need for efforts to protect children from cyber crimes. However, knowledge and understanding of this issue is limited partly due to the ever- evolving nature of technology. It is also important to analyse the issue not only through the legal framework but also through the technological means.
The Kasur child sexual abuse scandal is a series of sexual abuses of children that took place between 2006 and 2014 in Hussain Khanwala village in Kasur district in the province of Punjab, culminating in a major political scandal in 2015 (5). Both media and government officials have described it as the biggest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history. After the discovery of hundreds of video clips showing children engaged in forced sexual acts, various Pakistani media estimated that 280 to 300 children, most of them male, had been sexually abused. The scandal involved an organised crime ring that sold child sexual abuse material to porn sites while blackmailing and extorting the victims’ relatives (6).
Different Forms of Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
Violence against children can manifest itself in many ways, including physical, emotional, neglect and sexual abuse. This may involve physical contact or non-contact activities such as child sexual abuse, child prostitution, child trafficking, bullying, etc.
Difference Between Child Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Exploitation
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) means forcing or enticing a child to engage in sexual activity, whether the child is aware of it or not. This may include activities such as involving children in viewing or producing sexual images, watching sexual activity, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate behaviour, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (7).
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs when an individual or group uses a power imbalance to coerce, manipulate, or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial gain or status gain of the perpetrator or facilitator (8). The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the activity appears to be consensual.
Child sexual abuse and exploitation takes on an online dimension when any form of online technology such as the internet is used to produce and share child sexual abuse material. For example, when sexual acts are photographed or video/audio recorded, which are then uploaded and shared online, either for personal use or to share with others.
Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA)
As the internet and sophisticated digital tools have increased, so has the emergence of child sexual exploitation material become accessible online. Images and videos of children can be seen on many internet platforms, such as social media, file sharing services, image sharing websites, webcam video games and even mobile apps (9). In addition, people who commit these crimes may join internet discussion forums and networks to express their desires and experiences of exploitation of minors and to buy, share or exchange photos.
Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) encompasses a wide range of forms and behaviours. The term OCSEA is used in this policy brief to cover all types of offences. These may include:
Child sexual abuse material refers to material depicting sexual abuse acts of any kind, a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activity, or any depiction of a child’s private parts for predominantly sexual purposes or use of children in pornographic performances and materials (10).
Cyberbullying occurs when someone, usually a stranger, deliberately and repeatedly harasses another person online by sending them hurtful messages or images or posting negative things about them on websites (11). This is common on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Sexting is sending and receiving sexual messages via technology such as a phone, app, email or webcam. Sexting can include words, photos or videos, such as: a sexually explicit message or post, nude or semi-nude photos/videos, photos/videos of sexual acts, live webcam chats with someone involving sexual acts, photos/videos taken with a webcam, etc (12).
Sextortion/ sexual extortion is the blackmailing of an adult or child using (self-made) images of that person to extort sexual favours, money or other benefits from them, under the threat of sharing the material without the consent of the person depicted (e.g. posting images on social media or sending them to family members) (13).
Livestreaming of child sexual abuse and exploitation means that children committing or viewing sexual acts or indecent images of children with other perpetrators are broadcast live over the internet (via webcam) to viewers. This happens in online chat rooms, on social media platforms and in communication apps with video chat functions (14). Livestreaming child sexual abuse viewers can be passive (paid) or active, communicating with the child, the sex offender and/or the facilitator of the sexual abuse and demanding certain physical acts. Another type of livestreaming could involve forcing a child to produce and broadcast sexual content in real time.
Grooming a child for sexual purposes is shorthand for soliciting children for sexual purposes and refers to the process of establishing a relationship with a child in person or through the internet or other digital technologies with the intention of engaging in sexual acts or producing child sexual abuse material (15).
Both girls and boys can fall into more than one category, and this overlap of risk factors puts them at greater risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.
“Child Pornography” does not accurately depict Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
The term “child pornography” is now commonly referred to as “child sexual abuse material” (CSAM). The term “pornography” suggests that the material is created and distributed for the purpose of sexual gratification, which is not an accurate or adequate characterisation of the harm done to children who are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. The use of the term “child sexual abuse material’ emphasises the seriousness of the crime and the harm caused to child victims and helps to promote public understanding of the issue. The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that States’ parties, in line with recent developments, avoid the term ‘child pornography’ to the extent possible and use other terms such as the ‘use of children in pornographic performances and materials’, ‘child sexual abuse material’ and ‘child sexual exploitation material’.
The term “child sexual abuse material” (CSAM) is used here on this document, as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but the term “child pornography” is used or mentioned here when that term is used by the law.
New Technologies and Trends
There are new technologies and new trends that further endanger the lives of children, such as virtual games, deepfake technology and private browsers. Deepfake, for example, is a new trend in OCSEA where perpetrators manipulate photos and videos of children into sexual images in order to extort more sexual images from them (16). This manipulation can include anything from a photo of a child naked in a swimming costume to showing a child’s face on a person’s body performing a sex act. The perpetrator then shows the edited images to the victim and threatens to share them with parents, friends, school or social media if the child does not send him more, often increasingly graphic, photos or videos (17). Sometimes the perpetrators force the child to extend the abuse to friends or younger siblings, or they invite other perpetrators to join in the sextortion and demand specific or images.
In 2022, a BBC News investigation discovered that the Metaverse exposes children to “wholly inappropriate” and “incredibly harmful” sexual content (18). Two journalists investigating VRChat, one of the most popular apps on the Metaverse Oculus Quest shop, have extensively documented sexual harassment of children and their exposure to inappropriate content on virtual platforms (19). Jess Sherwood, a BBC researcher, pretended to be a 13-year-old girl while exploring virtual spaces in VRChat. She discovered and visited a virtual strip club as part of her investigation, where she witnessed adult men chasing a child and ordering her to undress. Condoms and sex toys were on display in many of the rooms Sherwood entered. She even witnessed a group of adult men and teenagers engaging in group sex on one occasion. She also observed several cases of grooming during her investigation. Journalist Yinka Bokinni made similar observations while investigating for Channel 4 Dispatches as a 22-year-old woman and a 13-year-old child (20). She was confronted with racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments from other users within seconds of entering one of VRChat’s virtual spaces.
Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Pakistan
In its Cruel Numbers 2021 report, Sahil, a non-governmental organisation that works against child sexual abuse, reports that cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse are on the rise, with 145 cases reported in 2021 (21). In 2021, the Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline received 4441 new cases (22). Women were targeted in 68% of the total number of cases. Children were targeted in 184 cases (4%) (23). The helpline found that women are more vulnerable to extortion and non-consensual use of their information, including but not limited to their pictures, videos, and phone numbers. However, fake profiles and hacked accounts are more likely to have a negative emotional impact on women and damage their reputation in society (24). This is one of the reasons why few cases are reported to law enforcement in Pakistan.
Roshni Helpline is a non-profit organisation that specialises in recovering missing children and reuniting them with their families. The Roshni team informed the NCRC in November 2022 that while interviewing a number of children after their recovery, they found that some of the children were provoked and manipulated by criminals through chat groups (such as Whatsapp and Messenger) and classified ads websites such as (Locanto). In one case, a girl was sexually abused and ended up in a massage parlour from where she was recovered.
Because the internet knows no borders, cyber crimes are committed in numerous jurisdictions. The users, facilitators and victims can all be in different countries. Most of the popular social media companies are registered in the United States and have users from all over the world, including Pakistan. The National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline is the United States’ central reporting system for online child exploitation, including child sexual abuse material, child trafficking and online enticement (25). Because these companies have users around the world and these incidents are reported to NCMEC, the CyberTipline serves as a global clearinghouse.
Companies in the United States must comply with 18 USC 2258A (26), which requires US companies to report to the NCMEC CyberTipline when they become aware of suspected child sexual abuse material on their platforms and servers (27). The CyberTipline provides the public and online electronic service providers with an easy way to quickly report suspected cases of OCSEA.
The CyberTipline receives cases about various forms of OCSEA on the internet. The number of reports in 2021 has increased in almost every category compared to 2020 and 2019 (28). Reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) make up the largest reporting category. Over 99% of reports received by the CyberTipline in 2021 involved incidents of suspected CSAM (29).
|2019 Reports||2020 Reports||2021 Reports|
(possession, manufacture, and distribution)
The CyberTipline received more than 29.3 million reports in 2021 (30). Of the total reports, 29.1 million of these reports came from Electronic Service Providers (ESP) reporting cases of apparent child sexual abuse material that they learned about on their systems.
|Electronic Service Providers (2021)|
Of the total cases reported in 2021, most were from India, followed by the Philippines and Pakistan (31). These figures are not indicative of the extent of child sexual abuse in any particular country. However, they do indicate that a large amount of content related to child sexual material is consumed, uploaded and distributed from Pakistan. According to the FIA, 70% of child sexual abuse material uploaded from Pakistan is non-Asian content produced abroad and re-uploaded and distributed by Pakistani users.
|Country||No. of Cases Reported (2021)|
Although the scale of the problem can be hinted by the statistics from ESPs, there is probably no way of estimating the actual number of victims, as not all content is detected by ESPs. Nonetheless, the available data clearly suggests that there are many more unidentified victims of OCSEA than those who have been identified or have reported complaints to law enforcement. In contrast, only 343 local cases reported to the FIA in five years (32), 113 cases in year 2021 and 187 cases in year 2022 (FIA).
Once the complaint has been received by the FIA, it is examined and, after an initial investigation, a charge is filed. In 2021, FIA registered 53 FIRs and 65 accused were arrested while in 2022, a total number of 65 FIRs were registered and 69 accused were arrested (FIA 2023).
|FIRs Registered on OCSEA for Year 2022 (Pakistan)|
Cyber Crime Reporting Centre
|Local Complaints||CyberTipline Reports||Interpol/ Embassies||Total FIRs||Total Accused Arrested|
|FIRs Registered on Local Complaint having Section 22 of PECA||FIRs Registered on CyberTipline Reports having Section 22 of PECA||FIRs Registered on Embassies/ Interpol Reports having Section 22 of PECA|
FIA busted a gang dealing in child sexual abuse material (33)
In April 2022, a gang allegedly making money by sexually abusing children on the dark web was busted in Lahore. At least 10 victims were sexually exploited, according to the initial investigation by the Cybercrime Cell of the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA). The suspects, who live in a private residential society in an outskirt of Lahore, lured a victim with money or other means, raped him and filmed the entire incident. Afterwards, the suspects blackmailed the victim into giving them money and repeatedly forced him into sexual exploitation. When he resisted, the suspects threatened to publish his video on the internet.
The suspects also made money by selling these explicit videos on the dark web. The gang consisted of four members, including one woman. The FIA’s Cyber Wing was alerted after the organisation received a complaint about child sexual abuse material. The FIA initiated investigation after receiving the complaint and a large quantity of videos containing child sexual abuse material was recovered from the gang member mobile phone. There were several children as victims. According to the information, the gang member lured underage children by offering them money and valuable gifts and recording their videos, which were then uploaded on the dark web to earn money.
The Cybercrime Cell of the FIA has registered a case against the accused under Sections 20, 21 and 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016 and Section 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
Data released by the Internet Watch Foundation (34) shows that 97% of all child sexual abuse material identified globally in 2021 involved the sexual abuse of girls, compared to only 65% of images seen by analysts ten years ago (35). Although both boys and girls can be victims of online violence and abuse, girls are significantly more likely to be victims of repeated and severe forms of technology-facilitated violence against children that affect their safety, physical and mental health, livelihoods, family ties, dignity and reputation. A study conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan found that girls’ online experiences differ significantly from those of boys (36). Several female respondents reported being followed and approached by older men. Girls reported being more likely to be harassed by men online, for example through repeated inboxes or by being sent lewd photos.
The statistics on OCSEA available from the FIA are limited and could be improved. This is very important because awareness of the extent of OCSEA remains low among key stakeholders in Pakistan. This leads to a low sense of urgency and is likely to result in the issue of OCSEA receiving limited political attention and funding. In order to develop effective and appropriate responses, it is important that the federal and provincial governments have a clear understanding of the extent, characteristics and trends of OCSEA in all provinces and regions. This requires that all relevant government agencies regularly collect and publish statistics on prevalence disaggregated by gender and age, and share this information with key stakeholders as evidence to improve policies and strategies to tackle OCSEA.
Threat and Dangers for Children in Digital World
The risks to which children are exposed when using ICT are many and varied. Children who use ICT excessively and are not supervised are at high risk of being exposed to sexual content that is easily accessible online. Exposure to such explicit content increases children and young people’s vulnerability to sexual abuse and exploitation. This can also lead to children developing various ‘sexual illiteracies’ and viewing such behaviour as normal and acceptable due to the lack of communication and discussion on the topic (37). This makes children an easy target for predators who lure children to produce child sexual abuse material. Since many children are not aware of the biological aspects of their bodies, the sexual arousal of viewing pornography can trigger feelings of guilt and anxiety in the child (38). Unfortunately, pornography, sexual abuse of children and cyber crimes against children are issues that are rarely discussed in Pakistan due to the shame and stigma associated with them. If a child is exposed to sexual content at a very young age, he or she may become desensitised to sex and be tempted to engage in sexual behaviour at a young age.
Moreover, ICT provide a platform where children can easily meet strangers. According to one survey, more than 40 per cent of children chat online with strangers on social media and gaming platforms that they would never meet in real life (Cybersafe Kids 2019). Children are particularly vulnerable to being manipulated by adults they meet online. Once an online relationship is established, the groomer often steers the conversation towards sex. The child may be pressured into taking explicit photos or videos of themselves and sending them to the groomer. Many think this is fun and safe at first, partly because they trust the person and do not meet the person in person. After the criminals have one or more videos or images, they threaten to publish this content online, or they threaten violence to get the victim to produce more images. The shame, fear and confusion children feel when caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse (39).
Stages of Online Grooming
Grooming, unlike most other forms of child sexual abuse (CSA), is often an insidious process. Although grooming is case-specific and looks different for each victim, the following stages can be observed in most cases (40).
- Targeting: Perpetrators seek out children by creating false profiles on the internet, often by pretending to be a child in the same age group and contacting them online. Often the perpetrators target children in their close circle of friends or family.
- Gaining access: The perpetrator builds trust with the child by making them feel special, sometimes through gifts or excessive compliments and attention.
- Trust Development: The perpetrator becomes a constant presence in the child’s life and gives the appearance of a friendly or even romantic relationship.
- Desensitisation to sexual content and touch: Once a certain level of trust has been established, the groomer begins to desensitise the child to touch and sexual content, for example by establishing physical proximity or exposing the child to sexual content, in order to create an environment for child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual exploitation.
- Maintaining control: Perpetrators often use secrecy and feelings of shame to maintain control over the child. In some cases, perpetrators use self-created intimate content to blackmail children into prolonging the abusive relationship.
It is important to recognise that OCSEA is also related to offline sexual exploitation and abuse of children, as some individuals may use the internet or other technologies to facilitate their offline abuse, for example by grooming children through online platforms or using the internet to find and contact children to exploit them.
Co-occurrence of Online and Offline Child Sexual Abuse
A 15-year-old boy, Grade 8 student, narrated in a witness statement (41) that he was introduced to the offender by his friend, who later started taking pictures on his mobile phone and over time he lured the victim and took nude pictures of him, after which the offender started blackmailing him to satisfy his unnatural lust. The victim also narrated details of how he was taken to different places where the abuser blackmailed him, committed unnatural offences and made nude films.
While some child sexual abuse material depicts children in great distress and the sexual abuse is obvious, other images or videos show children who appear complacent (42). However, just because a child appears unconcerned does not mean that sexual abuse has not taken place. Often, perpetrators “groom” their victims, i.e. they build a relationship with a child and gradually sexualise contact with them (43). Most often, the abuse is an ongoing victimisation that goes on for months or years, rather than a single incident. In order to desensitise a child or weaken their resistance to sexual abuse, a false sense of trust and authority is built up towards the child. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the abuse may have started earlier than the image was created, even if the child seems comfortable in it.
The production of child sexual abuse material (videos, images, etc.) creates a permanent record of a child’s sexual abuse. Victims of online child sexual exploitation and abuse suffer not only from the sexual abuse inflicted on them to produce child sexual abuse content, but also from the knowledge that their images and videos can be traded and viewed by others worldwide. Once the material is published on the internet, it is irretrievable and can continue to circulate without any control (44).
Victims are often re-victimised for the rest of their lives, knowing that the images and videos will be available on the internet forever (45). The children who are exploited in these images have to live with the permanence, longevity and spread of such a record of their sexual abuse. This often leads to long-term psychological damage to the children, including disruption of sexual development, self-image and the development of trusting relationships with others in the future. Many victims of OCSEA suffer feelings of helplessness, fear, humiliation and lack of control as their images are forever visible to others (46).
Child sexual exploitation and abuse affects children of all ages, backgrounds, socio-economic status, gender and vulnerability. The perpetrators can come from all countries, regardless of age and gender. It is important that parents, educators and caregivers educate children about these risks and help them use technology safely and responsibly. This includes setting appropriate limits on screen time, monitoring online activity, using parental control tools to filter content and restrict access to certain websites and apps.
International Legal Framework for Child Online Protection
International human rights law can provide guidance to individual countries on international standards and, accordingly, help individual countries enact new laws or amend existing laws to curb violence against children committed through the use of ICT, in line with relevant international best practices.
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (47), the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. Pakistan ratified the Convention in 1990.
The Convention protects children from all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse, and from discrimination of any kind, and ensures that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all matters affecting him or her. Article 34 of CRC requires States Parties to take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, including measures to prevent the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.
General Comment No. 25 (2021) on Children’s Rights in relation to the Digital Environment
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not explicitly mention the online protection of children from abuse and exploitation (48). Therefore, on 24 March 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted General Comment No. 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. This General Comment supports the assertion that children’s rights apply online as well as offline.
The General Comment No. 25 provides guidance on how States Parties should interpret and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child through legislative, policy and other measures to ensure that States fully comply with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (49). In the context of the digital environment, the GC No. 25 places particular emphasis on the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and non-discrimination. It also emphasises the need for children to have access to digital literacy education and safe online spaces, and the importance of protecting children from online sexual abuse and exploitation.
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC)
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC) (50) is one of the most important international legally binding instruments containing provisions obliging States Parties to criminalise illegal acts related to child sexual abuse material.
Child sexual abuse material is referred to as “child pornography” in Article 2 of the OPSC and is defined as “any representation, by whatever means, of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes (Art. 2 (c))”
Article 3 (1) (a) of the OPSC states that each State Party shall ensure that, as a minimum, the acts of producing, distributing, disseminating, importing, exporting, offering, selling, or possessing for the above purposes child pornography as defined in Article 2 of the OPSC shall be fully covered under “its criminal or penal law”, whether such offences are committed domestically or transnationally or on an individual or organised basis.
Article 3 (1) (c) of the OPSC requires State Parties to criminalise acts related to child pornography whether committed domestically or transnationally, on an individual or organized basis including producing, distributing, disseminating, importing, exporting, offering, selling child pornography or possessing it for the purpose of production, distribution, dissemination, importation, exportation, offer, or sale.
Article 3 (3) of the OPSC obliges State Parties to make such offenses punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account their grave nature.
Article 3 (4) of the OPSC mandates State Parties to take measures, whether appropriate, to establish liability of legal persons for offenses established in its Article 3 (1), subject to the provisions of their national laws and such liability may be criminal, civil, or administrative.
Article 4 (2) of the OPSC stipulates that a State Party may take such measures as may be necessary to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction over the offenses referred to in Article 3 (1) in one of the following cases: (a) when the alleged offender is a national of that State or a person who has habitual residence in its territory; or (b) when the victim is a national of that State.
Article 7 (a) of the OPSC states that State Parties shall, subject to the provisions of their national law, take measures to provide for: (i) the confiscation of assets used to commit or facilitate offenses under the present protocol; and (ii) the confiscation of proceeds derived from such offenses.
Pakistan ratified the OPSC in 2011 and is thus obliged to implement these instruments and report on progress to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva every five years. The first report, due in 2013, was submitted by Pakistan in September 2019. As of December 2022, the Committee has not yet released its concluding observations.
The Government of Pakistan report submitted under article 12 (1) of OPSC highlights various steps taken by the Government of Pakistan, such as amending the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (“PPC”) and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2016, to protect the child by criminalising acts such as child trafficking, child prostitution, child pornography and the sale of children. Child pornography has been criminalised in Section 292-C of the PPC. The report shows that the Government of Pakistan provides mutual legal assistance in criminal matters on the basis of bilateral treaties and international conventions to which Pakistan and the State requesting assistance are parties. The mechanism is enshrined in the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898. The report mentions that a National Human Rights Action Plan has been in place since 2016, which includes measures related to children’s rights. Under the Action Plan, a National Policy Framework on Human Rights is being developed by the Ministry of Human Rights to protect human rights, including the protection of children from abuse, violence, discrimination and exploitation, including the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Committee on the Rights of the Child issued Guidelines regarding the Implementation of the OPSC
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has long been concerned that many States Parties are not properly implementing the OPSC and that the Protocol needs to be adapted to cover online exploitation (51). In response, the Committee released a new set of guidelines in 2019 to provide concrete advice to States on how to effectively protect children from OCSEA. These guidelines take into account various current trends and issues, such as:
- The OPSC guidelines offer suggestions to states on how to deal with the increasing number of sexually explicit images/videos produced by children themselves. It is emphasised that children should never be held responsible for the disclosure of these materials.
- The new guidelines emphasise the need for stronger and more effective education programmes to help children access support groups and should include the use of tech-friendly platforms to educate children, parents, school teachers and caregivers about online abuse.
- The guidelines provide recommendations on how states can improve their legal systems to ensure that sexually exploited children are treated as victims and not as criminals.
- These guidelines also highlight the pivotal role that businesses play in combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Banks must work to stop payments, internet service providers should block illegal sites and increase their cooperation with law enforcement, the travel and tourism industry should work to prevent their services from being abused by criminals, to name a few.
- Other issues raised in the guidelines include gender-sensitive victim support programmes, especially for boys, and more attention should be paid to protecting vulnerable groups of children.
An Inter-agency Working Group (52) has produced an Explanatory Report which supplements the Guidelines and provides more detailed information and specific examples of the implementation of certain provisions of the OPSC. The Explanatory Report follows the structure and includes the integral text of the OPSC Guidelines. For each paragraph of the Guidelines, additional information is added regarding the different issues raised, and references are included to international and regional standards linked to the issues covered under the OPSC, the Committee’s relevant General Comments, and recommendations by other similar bodies. The report is detailed and useful for States in establishing sound child protection systems.
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure
The Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure (OPCP) (53) recognises that children have the right to appeal to an international mechanism specific to them when national mechanisms are unable to address violations effectively. Pakistan has not ratified this Optional Protocol by Jan 2023.
ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182)
In 1999, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Convention on the prohibition and immediate action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour (54). Pakistan ratified this Convention on 11 October, 2001. Articles 1 and 3 (b) of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) require States Parties to take immediate and effective steps to ensure the prohibition and elimination of the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production or performance of pornography.
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
In November 2022, Pakistan has ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN convention against Transnational Organized Crime (55) (UN Trafficking Protocol) with two reservations (56). The Protocol establishes the first common international definition of trafficking in persons”. It aims to prevent and combat this crime and facilitate international cooperation against it. The Protocol also highlights the problems associated with trafficking in persons, which often leads to inhumane, degrading and dangerous exploitation of trafficked persons
ECOSOC Resolution 2011/33
The UN Economic and Social Council issued a resolution (57) entitled “Economic and Social Council Resolution 2011/33 on prevention, protection and international cooperation against the use of new information technologies to abuse and/or exploit children”. The resolution emphasises that new information and communication technologies and applications are being misused to commit crimes of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Furthermore, the ECOSOC resolution highlights that technological developments have enabled the emergence of crimes such as the production, distribution, or possession of child sexual abuse images, audio or video, exposure of children to harmful content, grooming, harassment, and sexual abuse of children, and cyber-bullying.
The Convention on Cybercrime (“Budapest Convention”) (58) is considered to be a comprehensive and coherent intergovernmental instrument on cybercrime and electronic evidence dealing with computer-assisted offences in the area of child pornography. The treaty is open for accession by any country. Pakistan has not adopted the Budapest Convention.
It serves as a guide for all countries developing domestic legislation on cybercrime and as a framework for international cooperation among States Parties to this Convention. Article 9 of the Cybercrime Convention contains provisions that criminalise child pornography offences committed through the use of a computer system, provided that such commission is intentional and unauthorised. The Budapest Convention provides for the criminalisation of conduct – ranging from illegal access, data and system interference to computer-related fraud and child pornography, as well as procedural powers to investigate cybercrime and secure electronic evidence related to any crime and for efficient international cooperation.
The Convention is supplemented by a First Additional Protocol on the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems (CETS 189) and a Second Additional Protocol on enhanced international cooperation and disclosure of electronic evidence (CETS 224) which was opened for signature on 12 May 2022 (59).
The Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (also known as the Lanzarote Convention) (60) contains provisions on offences related to child pornography (Article 20) and online grooming (Article 23). Lanzarote Convention is open for ratification by Council of Europe member states. In addition, this Convention is open for accession by non-member States of the Council of Europe.
Rio de Janeiro Pact to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents
The World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 25to 28 November 2008 to review the development and actions taken following the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action (1996) and the Yokohama Global Commitment (2001). A document entitled “Rio de Janeiro Pact to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents” (“Rio de Janeiro Pact”) (61) was produced. Although this document is not an international legally binding instrument, it addresses measures to be taken at national level to prevent, prohibit and criminalise certain forms of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. A particular focus is on the abuse of children and young people through the Internet and related technologies, including activities related to child sexual abuse material and grooming of children committed through the use of the Internet and new technologies.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda) is a set of international development goals for the period from 2016 to 2030, adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, building on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030 (62) provide a framework for action by governments in their efforts to protect children from offline and online abuse and exploitation. This global commitment, to which the Government of Pakistan has agreed, provides for the protection of children from all forms of violence under Goal 16.2 and other related goals, i.e. 5.2 and 8.7. This includes abuse, exploitation, trafficking, harmful practices and neglect or negligent treatment.
The lack of a coherent and harmonious international human rights framework for privacy protection and content regulation is a major obstacle to the implementation of an international strategy to protect the interests of children using ICT. Regulations for digital service and platform providers are inconsistent and each country applies its own national laws when assessing reported content, which can be easily exploited by perpetrators. Moreover, the complexity of cyber crimes and the challenges of international cooperation make it even more difficult to develop enforceable international laws to combat OCSEA.
Pakistan’s Legal Framework for Child Online Protection
This section provides an overview of Pakistan’s national and provincial laws dealing with child online protection.
Constitution of Pakistan, 1973
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the supreme law of Pakistan, undertakes in Article 3 to ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the protection of law as the inalienable right of every citizen. Article 11 of the Constitution prohibits all forms of slavery, forced labour, human trafficking, employment of children under 14 years of age and work of children in hazardous conditions. Article 25 states that all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law and empowers states to make special provisions for the protection of women and children. Article 35 provides that the state shall protect the family and children. Article 37(e) provides that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that children and women are not employed in vocations unsuited to their age or sex, and for maternity benefits for women in employment.
Pakistan Penal Code, 1860
The Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (PPC) is the main criminal code of Pakistan. There are several provisions in the PPC that are relevant to OCSEA. Section 292A, 292B, 293, 294 of PPC are specifically meant to deal with the sale, distribution and publically exhibits obscene books in any manner put into circulation, exposure to seduction of any child, child pornography, sale of obscene objects to young person, and obscene acts and songs.
Section 292A of the PPC deals with exposure to seduction. Whoever, by any means, seduces a child with intent to involve him in any sexual act or exposes him to any obscene and sexually explicit material, document, film, video or computer generated image or attempts to commit the aforesaid act, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year and which may extend to seven years or with fine which shall not be less than one hundred thousand rupees and which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees or with both.
Child pornography is defined in section 292B of the PPC 1860 as the taking of photographs, films, videos, pictures or images, portraits or computer-generated images or depictions of obscene or sexually explicit acts with or without the consent of the child or with or without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian, whether made by electronic, mechanical or other means.
Child pornography has been criminalised in section 292C of the PPC. Under this, anyone who commits an offence of child pornography shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than fourteen years and may extend up to twenty years, and with fine which shall not be less than one million rupees.
Pakistan Penal Code, 1860
Section 292B. Child pornography.— (1) whoever takes, permits to be taken, with or without the consent of the child or with or without the consent of his parents or guardian, any photograph, film, video, picture or representation, portrait, or computer generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of obscene or sexually explicit conduct, where. — (a) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor boy or girl engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; (b) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; or (c) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; is said to have committed an offence of child pornography. (2)The preparation, possession or distribution of any data store on a computer disk or any other modern gadget, shall also be an offence under this section.
Section 292C. Punishment for child pornography.— Whoever commits an offence of child pornography shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than fourteen years and may extend upto twenty years, and with fine which shall not be less than one million rupees.
Section 293 of PPC prohibits the sale, distribution, exhibition or circulation of obsene objects to young person under the age of twenty and is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or by a fine, or by both.
Cruelty to the child is dealt with under section 328A of the PPC. Cruelty is defined as wilful assault on a child, ill-treatment, neglect or abandonment of a child or any act which results or is likely to result in physical or psychological injury to a child. Whoever commits the offence intentionally shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year and not more than three years or with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five thousand rupees and not more than fifty thousand rupees or with both.
Section 377A of the PPC deals with sexual abuse of children which states that whoever employs, uses, coerces, persuades, induces, entices or compels any person to grope, fondle, caress, engage in exhibitionistic acts, voyeurism or other obscene or sexually explicit acts or the simulation of such acts either independently or in conjunction with other acts, with or without consent, if the person is less than eighteen years of age, commits the offence of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse has been criminalised in Section 377B of the PPC 1860, which states that the person who commits the offence of sexual abuse shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than fourteen years and may extend up to twenty years and with fine which shall not be less than one million rupees.
Prostitution is illegal in Pakistan and has been criminalised. Sections 371A and 371B of the PPC criminalise the sale or purchase of a person for the purpose of prostitution, punishable by imprisonment for up to 25 years and a fine. In addition, Section 366A of the PPC criminalises the procuration of minor girls under the age of 18 for illicit sexual intercourse, punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA 2016) contains specific procedural measures that apply to all cybercrime investigations, crimes committed using computer systems and all criminal investigations where digital evidence is required. The PECA 2016 also applies to cases related to the OCSEA. The Act is enforced throughout Pakistan.
Section 21 of the PECA, 2016 relates to modesty of a minor and a natural person. It prescribes imprisonment up to seven years and fine up to five million rupees in case a person is involved in online child abuse. Section 22 of the PECA of 2016 criminalises, among other things, the production, distribution, transmission and procurement of child pornography through information systems.
Section 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016
Child pornography.—(1) Whoever intentionally produces, offers or makes available, distributes or transmits through an information system or procures for himself or for another person or without lawful justification possesses material in an information system, that visually depicts,— (a) a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; (b) a person appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or (c) realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or (d) discloses the identity of the minor, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine which may extend to five million rupees or with both.
(2) Any aggrieved person or his guardian, where such person is a minor, may apply to the Authority for removal, destruction of or blocking access to such information referred to in sub-section (1) and the Authority, on receipt of such application, shall forthwith pass such orders as deemed reasonable in the circumstances, including an order for removal, destruction, preventing transmission of or blocking access to such information and the Authority may also direct any of its licensees to secure such information including traffic data.
The PECA, 2016 covers the following offences that may be associated with cases of OCSEA: unauthorised access to information systems or data (Section 3), unauthorised copying or transmission of data (Section 4), electronic fraud (Section 14), making, supplying or obtaining devices for use in offences (Section 15), defamation (Section 20), special protection of women (Section 21), cyberstalking (Section 24), spamming (Section 25) and spoofing (Section 26). The PECA, 2016 also provides for legal recognition of offences committed in relation to information systems (Section 27), powers for expedited preservation and disclosure of data (Section 31), a search and seizure warrant (Section 32), the power to conduct searches and seizures (Section 35), conditions and safeguards relating to searches and seizures (Section 36), and the capture and recording of data in real time (Section 39).
The PECA, 2016 provides for general measures of international cooperation, including comprehensive provisions on spontaneous information, grounds for refusal, confidentiality and limitations on use, as well as authorisations to cooperate on specific investigative measures (Section 34).
COMPARISON OF OFFENCES IN PAKISTAN PENAL CODE, 1860
PREVENTION OF ELECTRONIC CRIMES ACT, 2016
The comparative analysis (63) of the two provisions Sections 292B & 292C of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 and Section 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 clearly shows that the offence in PECA, 2016 starts with the information system whereas in terms of the PPC, 1860 it is in a different context, rather the PPC has a broader meaning, where any photograph, film, video, portrait or computer-generated image created with or without the consent of the child by electronic or other mechanical means in which a minor, boy or girl, engages in obscene and sexually explicit conduct is guilty of child pornography. Thus, Section 292-B of PPC, 1860 also covers the concept of computer-generated images.
The offence under Section 22 of the PECA, 2016, while containing a similar concept, requires the offence to have been committed through a computer generated system or information system used by the accused person, but the other striking difference is the dissimilarity of the penalties, although the legislature enacted the PECA, 2016, with the specific objective of, ” to prevent unauthorised acts in relation to information systems and to provide for related offences and mechanisms for their investigation, but surprisingly the PECA provides for a penalty of 07 years or a fine for child pornography, which is much less than the penalty in section 292-B PPC, where a penalty of 14 years, which can extend to 20 years, and a fine of not less than Rs.1 Million, has been fixed.
Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules, 2021
The Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2021 (“Rules”) have been approved to implement sections 37 and 51 of the PECA, 2016. Sections 37 and 51 of PECA provide that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) may make rules for blocking and regulating online content on social media forums. The section also provides that such content shall be blocked and removed if PTA is of the opinion that it is against the honour and interests of Islam, the defence, security and integrity of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, or is in connection with contempt of court or the commission or incitement of an offence relating to data protection or cybercrime.
Social media or social networking services are defined in the Rules as a website, application or mobile web application, platform or communication channel and any other such application and service that permits a person to become a registered user, create an account or create a public profile for the primary purpose of, allowing the user to post and share user-generated content through such account or profile, or to enable one or more users to generate content that can be viewed, posted and shared by other users of such platform, but does not include the licensees of PTA unless they specifically provide social media or social networking services. A social media company could face a penalty of up to 500 million rupees if it fails to comply with the direction of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for blocking online content (64).
Section 3 of the Rules is important because it describes the cases where removal of online content is permitted under section 37 of the PECA 2016, which may lead to the blocking and removal of online content that offends decency and morality where the online content constitutes an act that is an offence under sections 292, 293, 294 and 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. (Sections 292-294 deal with selling obscene books and articles, as well as performing obscene songs and acts in public. Section 509 deals with insulting a woman’s modesty or sexual harassment.) Service providers, social media companies, and major social media companies are required to place mechanisms for immediate blocking of live streaming of online content through Pakistan’s online information system, particularly if they receive a notice from PTA of content relating to terrorism, hate speech, pornography, incitement to violence, and endangering national security.
Service Providers Liability
A very important issue is the obligation and liability of service providers. Pakistan’s PECA 2016 does not impose any obligation on service providers, including ISPs, to monitor, block and remove CSAM and is not required to report CSAM to the relevant authorities. However, under Rule 7(5) of the Removal Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2021, service provider shall deploy mechanisms to ensure the immediate blocking of online streaming, including pornographic content, and under Section Rule 7(4), service provider shall provide information with the designated investigative agency. However, this rule appears to contravene section 38(5) of PECA 2016, which deals with the limitation of liability of service providers. It states that no service provider shall be under any obligation to proactively monitor make inquiries about material or content hosted, cached, routed, relayed, conduit, transmitted or made available by any such intermediary or service provider.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022
A sub-committee on legal reforms of the Inter-Agency Network headed by the Federal Ombudsman has prepared the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2022 for amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 and the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984.
The proposed amendments aim to strengthen the existing legal framework for the prevention and control of sexual exploitation and cybercrime against children. The Bill proposes the inclusion of clear definitions of harmful content, non-sexual child abuse and sexually explicit conduct. The Bill proposes new sections in the PECA 2016 to include offences of online grooming, solicitation, cyber enticement, commercial sexual exploitation of children, exposure to harmful online content, non-commercial exploitation, cyber bullying and police cognizance of offences under the PECA, the composition of a joint investigation team, victim and witness protection, and to include amendments to Qanoon e-Shahadat regarding the admissibility of witness statements taken by the court through modern devices or techniques, including video calls.
The Bill was passed by the National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) in 2022. However, it lapsed because the Senate (the upper house of Parliament) did not pass the Bill within three months. The Bill must now be reintroduced to be considered again.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010 provides for the care, protection, maintenance, welfare, training, education, rehabilitation and reintegration of children at risk in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Section 2e(Vi) define the child pornography, including online child pornography means taking, permits to be taken, with or without the consent of the child, any photograph, film, video, picture or representation, portrait, or computer generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of obscene or sexually explicit conduct.
Section 35 deals with frauding or deceiting a child by words, spoken or written, or by signs or otherwise, incites, attempts to incite, deceits or allows a child to engage in any activity which is harmful to the physical, mental, emotional, economic and social well being of a child, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees or with both. Sections 36 and 37 deal with violence against a child that causes or intends to cause harm, pain, suffering or humiliation to a child. Section 40 of the Act defines the offences, while Section 48 sets out the punishment for child pornography, which is up to seven years imprisonment with a minimum sentence of three years and a fine. Section 50 deals with the offence of exposing a child to seduction with intent to engage him in a sexual act or exposing him or attempting to expose him to obscene and sexually explicit material, document, film, video or computer generated performance and is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both. Sexual abuse of children is dealt with in Section 53 and can be punished with up to 14 years.
KP Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2010
Section (f) Child Pornography
“child pornography” means taking, permits to be taken, with or without the consent of the child, any photograph, film, video, picture or representation, portrait, or computer generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of obscene or sexually explicit conduct, where-
(i) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; or
(ii) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaged in obscene or sexually explicit conduct; or
(iii) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in obscene or sexually explicit conduct, preparation, possession or distribution of any data stored on a computer disk or any other modern gadget.
Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Act, 2018
The ICT Child Protection Act, 2018 provides for the protection and care of children in the Islamabad Capital Territory from all forms of physical or mental violence, neglect, maltreatment, exploitation and abuse through the establishment of Child Protection Institutes responsible for case management and referral system. The Act defines sexual abuse and exploitation as causing or coercing a child to engage in unlawful sexual activity, including the use of children in audio or visual images for child pornography, child protection, trafficking within and between countries for sexual exploitation and sale of children for sexual purposes.
Balochistan Child Protection Act, 2016
The Balochistan Child Protection Act, 2016 provides for the protection of vulnerable children from all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, through the establishment of a Child Protection Commission and Child Protection Units in the districts responsible for the management of child protection cases. Section 2(1)(w) of the Act defines “sexual abuse and sexual exploitation” as:- (i) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful or psychologically harmful sexual activity; (ii) the use of children in commercial sexual exploitation; (iii) the use of children in audio or visual images of child sexual abuse; and (iv) child prostitution, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, trafficking (within and between countries) and sale of children for sexual purposes and forced marriage. In addition, Section 2(1)(t) provides a detailed definition of mental violence against children. Subsection (vii) of the same section covers any psychological harassment of children by adults transmitted or carried out through the use of information technology, internet or cyber devices such as mobile phones. By extending the concept of harassment to include novel technologies and use of children in audio or visual images of child sexual abuse, the government of Balochistan has acknowledged the existence of online child abuse and the long-term consequences in lives of children (65).
Sindh Child Protection Authority Act, 2011
The Sindh Child Protection Authority Act, 2011 provides for the establishment of an Authority known as the Sindh Child Protection Authority for children in need of special protection measures. It is to monitor and coordinate child protection related issues at provincial and district levels and assist the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Sindh in establishing a case management and referral system to protect children from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation. The Authority has established Child Protection Units and appointed Child Protection Officers to realise the objectives of this Act (66). A child in need of special measures is a child who (i) is a victim of violence, abuse and exploitation, (ii) is subjected to physical and psychological violence, sexual abuse or commercial sexual exploitation, (iii) is forced into the worst forms of child labour, exploitative labour, or beggary, etc.
Sindh Children Act, 1955
The Sindh Children Act, 1955, provides in Section 56 that inducing and promoting seduction (including inducing immoral behaviour) or prostitution of girls below the age of 18 years shall be punishable with two years. Section 57 deals with seduction or outrage of modesty. A person who engages in immoral conduct and seduces a girl under 18 years of age is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years and/or to a fine.
Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act, 2004
The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 (PDNCA, 2004) provides for the rescue, protective custody, care and rehabilitation of destitute and neglected children in the province of Punjab. Section 3(k) defines a destitute and neglected child to include a child who is or may be abused or exploited for immoral or illegal purposes or unconscionable gain 3(k) (v). To protect destitute and neglected children, the Act provides for the establishment of a Child Protection and Welfare Bureau, a Child Protection Unit, Child Protection Institutions and a Child Protection Court.
Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016
Similar to PDNCA 2004, this Act provides for the establishment of an effective system for the protection, relief and rehabilitation of women from violence in Punjab province, applicable to girls and women. Section 2 (1r) defines violence as “any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person, including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or cybercrime”. Implementation measures include a universal free helpline for aggrieved persons, the establishment of women’s protection centres and shelters and a district committee for the protection of women, etc. Although the word cybercrime appears in the definition, it does not define exactly what cybercrime means, leaving the interpretation to law enforcement agencies.
The provincial governments of Sindh (2013) (67), Balochistan (2014) (68) and KP (2021) (69) have also enacted laws against domestic violence to institutionalise measures to prevent and protect women, children and other vulnerable persons from domestic violence. While these laws refer to sexual abuse and emotional and verbal abuse, they do not directly address or provide any protection against online sexual exploitation and abuse.
The rapid development of ICT has also given offenders more opportunities and sophisticated means to identify, target, groom – and to abuse and exploit children. Pakistan does not adequately address these OCSEA offences in its legislation and does not directly criminalise live streaming of child sexual abuse online, nor does it criminalise online sexual extortion and online grooming. Nevertheless, these offences are being addressed in the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2022. Additionally there is a need for stronger laws, better implementation and enforcement.
Although the Pakistani government has imposed a ban and blocked websites containing pornographic material, the content is easily accessible on new websites or through virtual private networks. Also, there is no legal provision that exempts a child from any criminal responsibility for sharing CSAM, especially if forced to do so in an abusive situation. Consequently, children could be prevented from and/or or discouraged from reporting for fear of prosecution. Perpetrators could also theoretically exploit this loophole to blackmail children and take advantage of them for their own benefit.
Judgement of Superior Courts
In recent years, superior courts of Pakistan have given important judgements on the issue of OCSEA.
Judgement of Islamabad High Court
Criminal Appeal No. 151/2020
Muhammad Shahzad Khaliq versus The State
Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani of the Islamabad High Court authored the 24-page judgement while hearing an appeal against a conviction for child pornography. Muhammad Shahzad Khaliq had appealed against his conviction by a lower court. In a January 2022 judgement , the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Muhammad Shehzad Khaliq, who had been sentenced to 14 years in jail and fined 1 million rupees.
The case against accused Muhammad Shehzad Khaliq was registered on August 25, 2019, on the complaint of the father of the victim’s child. According to the forensic report, 22,800 photos and 839 videos were recovered from Shehzad’s mobile phone. Most of the videos and photos show minor girls and boys who were seduced and sexually exploited and whom the accused allegedly raped.
The Islamabad High Court has directed the federal government to take steps to increase the quantum of sentence on the charges of child pornography and issued guidelines to preserve the dignity of victims during the course of legal proceedings.
The court asked the federal government to amend the relevant section of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, to increase the sentence from seven years to a maximum of 20 years, along with a fine of not less than one million rupees as awarded to the complainant in the said case.
The IHC judgement provides guidance and states that in all cases of gender-based violence, courts must protect the rights of child victims of such cases by following the standards set out in international jurisprudence, adding that the victim must not be exposed to the accused or the courts and that his or her testimony must be recorded via a video link, if available.
The court suggested that the testimony can also be recorded by video conference, but that the child victim should not be in direct contact with the accused during the trial. The child should be placed in a conducive and protective environment, e.g. at home or in another separate facility if maintained by the government.
The court noted that the prosecution does not have to produce the victim in every case. Rather, the prosecution can prove its case on the basis of technical evidence of information technology, which falls under the modern devices permitted under the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984, and even under the international standards.
The order further states that the pornographic material shall not be exhibited in court and that the reports of the forensic laboratory or cybercrime expert shall be considered conclusive for the purpose of sentencing.
The IHC also directed the trial court to pass an order to remove all child pornography data which is accessible to anyone from any source and to direct the FIA and PTA to ensure that such data is not accessible in any information system to protect the dignity of the victim and the families. In addition, the learned trial court should ensure that child pornography cases are heard in camera and that any outsiders unrelated to the case or additional court staff are excluded when taking the testimony of a child victim.
Announced on 14 January 2022
Judgement of the Supreme Court
Criminal Petition No. 1154 of 2021
Umer Khan versus The State and another
A two-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, comprising Justice Maqbool Baqar and Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar, authored a three-page judgement saying that child pornography is one of the major causes of sexual abuse of children and one of the major causes of devastation of society. It is a grave threat to the future and morality of children in this country.
The court rejected the bail application of the accused involved in spreading child pornography videos on social media. The charge against the petitioner is that he shared child pornography content on Facebook through his mobile phone. The Supreme Court of Pakistan held that people involved in heinous crimes against innocent children do not deserve relief. The court rejected the bail application of Umar Khan, who was charged with child pornography, and directed the trial court to expedite proceedings and conclude the case at the earliest.
The court noted that the petitioner is accused of distributing child pornography content through his Facebook profile and mobile device. After receiving the information from Facebook, the matter was investigated by the Federal Investigating Agency and after its completion, the FIR was registered and the petitioner was arrested.
The court remarked that the argument of the suspect’s lawyer that no affected party came forward was inadmissible. Although the offence with which the petitioner is charged does not fall under the prohibitory clause of Section 497 Cr.P.C. and the maximum punishment for the same is seven years, given the nature of the charge, its impact on the society and the material collected so far merits the case to fall within the exception of granting bail when the offence falls within the non-prohibitory clause.
The court observed that one of the most alarming social evils prevalent in society is child pornography. It has wreaked havoc in the society as it poses a great threat to the morals and future of children. One of the reasons for the increase in child abuse and rape cases is clearly due to child pornography. Concern about child sexual abuse and exploitation has been prevalent in society in the past as well. However, due to various factors, the severity and impact of child pornography is increasing at an alarming rate and this menace needs to be curbed with an iron hand.
Announced on 1st November 2021
Institutional Framework for Child Online Protection
Child online protection is a concern of various ministries and departments, parliamentarians, NHRIs, educators, civil society organisations, industry and parents and transcends national boundaries.
Federal Investigation Authority (FIA)
The Federal Investigation Agency is Pakistan’s main national-level agency for investigating federal crimes. These include transnational organised crime, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, cybercrime, money laundering, terrorist financing, intellectual property rights, and electronic and physical bank fraud.
Cyber Crime Wing (CCW)
The Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) of the Federal Investigation Agency is guided by the PECA 2016, which addresses the growing threat of cybercrime. CCW was established in 2007 to identify and curb the phenomenon of technology misuse in society. The FIA receives direct complaints about cybercrimes and takes legal action against those who commit such crimes. The FIA received 84,764 complaints related to cybercrime in 2020 (FIA 2022). Most of the cases the FIA dealt with concern financial fraud. The FIA operates a cybercrime reporting helpline at 1991 and there is an online reporting portal at https://complaint.fia.gov.pk/. Fifteen (15) dedicated Cyber Crime Reporting Centres (CCRC) operate in six different zones of the country. Each circle or CCRC is headed by a Deputy Director who oversees the work of the CCRCs, forensic laboratories and the legal branch, and is supported by a team of investigators, prosecutors, cyber crime analysts, law officers, forensic experts and other support staff. CCW also has a Cyber Alert Service (CAS) to educate the public about cyber crime via SMS. It provides preventive tips on how to combat cybercrime.
The Unit Counter on Online Child Abuse (UCOCA) is a reporting centre set up by CCW as a specialised and dedicated unit to combat online child abuse within CCW Islamabad. UNOCA has designated focal persons in all 15 Cyber Crime Reporting Centres. It also acts as a focal contract for referrals from other countries on OCSEA. UNOCA is also engaged in processing and investigating high priority CyberTipline reports. Due to the high volume of CyberTipline reports, priority criteria are set by specialised investigators based on the CyberTipline reports. FIA CCW has also established an international link with NCMEC to access CyberTipline complaints online and is in process to gain access of INTERPOL’s Child Sexual Exploitation Database to conduct international investigations.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)
The Telecom Reorganisation Act, 1996 established the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector to regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of telecommunications systems and the provision of telecommunications services. Under the PECA 2016, PTA has been mandated to block or remove unlawful content on the internet and ensure that the provision of telecommunication services is free from content that is harmful to children. In Pakistan, websites with pornographic content are banned. PTA has provided emails to complain about nudity and pornographic content at email@example.com and child pornography at firstname.lastname@example.org. In 2016, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had launched a crackdown on pornography on the orders of the Supreme Court and tasked internet service providers with a list of 429,343 domains to be blocked to control the distribution of pornographic material (70).
PTA regularly raises awareness about the misuse of technology and issue warnings to parents and the public (71). PTA It has issued a recommendation to parents to take precautions to use parental control software on mobile phones and devices to prevent unwanted cybercrime incidents. PTA has also provided a list of software that provides parental control, including Net Nanny, Norton Family, Qustodio, WebWatcher, McAfe Safe Family, Witig Parental filter, Content Barrier, SpytechSentryPC and Verity (72).
National Task-Force on Prevention and Control of Cybercrimes against Children
Wafaqi Mohtasib formed a National Task Force to formulate a comprehensive cybercrime prevention strategy against children and address systemic issues to tackle the problem of increasing cybercrime against children (73). The strategy focused on developing effective means to (i) crack down on syndicates operating cyber pornography in Pakistan and (ii) prevent the distribution of child sexual abuse and torture videos. Two sub-committees were formed, namely (i) a sub-committee on legal reforms and (ii) a sub-committee on awareness raising.
The Sub-Committee on Legal Reforms was tasked with proposing amendments to existing laws and rules and developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for smooth and effective coordination with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other agencies/organisations. This committee played a leading role in drafting the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2022 for amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 and the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984.
The Sub-Committee on Awareness Raising has adopted a multi-pronged strategy to raise public awareness by engaging stakeholders at the national level, developing a year-long action plan, lobbying with legislators to include cybercrime in school curricula, sensitising the judiciary and law enforcement agencies on the issue of crimes against children, using electronic and print media and disseminating public messages through SMS, TV satellite channels and radio, and organising awareness-raising workshops for the justice sector, including judicial academies at the federal and provincial levels.
The eSafety Commissioner (eSafety) (74) is Australia’s independent online safety regulator with a shared goal of making the online experience safer and more positive for Australians. It is the world’s first government agency dedicated to keeping people safe online. It began operations in 2015 as the Children’s eSafety Commissioner and is now at the forefront of the fight against online risks and harms faced by both adults and children. The eSafety team consists of educators, investigators, lawyers, policy analysts, technology experts, digital specialists and other professionals.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) is the focal ministry of the Government of Pakistan responsible for planning, coordinating and directing programmes in the field of information technology and telecommunications. The Ministry has established a Cyber Governance Policy Committee (CGPC) to enforce policy initiatives related to cyber governance and security at the national level and to provide strategic oversight on national cyber security issues (75).
In 2021, the MoITT launched a “National Cyber Security Policy 2021” to address the incidents related to malicious use of information and communication technologies in cyberspace, which pose a serious financial and security threat to Pakistan (76). The policy supports the creation of an internal framework in all public and private institutions for the protection of the cyber ecosystem, the security of national information systems and infrastructures, and the protection of all national ICT infrastructures. A major gap in the
National Cyber Security Policy 2021 is that the issue of child online protection and OCSEA is not addressed.
MoITT raises awareness through training for children, which includes cyber safety issues, and has launched a number of digital inclusion initiatives involving vulnerable groups such as girls, children and people with different abilities. Recognising that protecting children online is a global challenge, MoITT organised a successful “ITU-Pakistan Digital Inclusion Week: Meaningful ICT for All’ from 12-13 December 2022 to promote a multi-stakeholder and inclusive approach to digital development. The event included discussions on key topics related to ICT, and two workshops that addressed the issue of child online protection and involved various stakeholders, namely Child Online Protection (COP) and Girls in ICT Day Pakistan 2022.
Child Protection Agencies (ICT and Provincial)
Each province and ICT have child protection agencies in accordance with their territorial laws to ensure that children have access to a functioning child protection system to protect children from abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation. These include the Child Protection Institute in Islamabad, the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau in Punjab, the KP Child Protection and Welfare Commission in Khyber Paktunkhwa, the Sindh Child Protection Authority in Sindh and the Balochistan Child Protection Commission in Balochistan. Discussion with representatives of the Child Protection Institute and the Sindh Child Protection Bureau revealed that they had not been referred to any OCSEA case by the FIA, nor had they received any complaint from a victim. The Punjab Child Protection and Welfare Bureau does not provide services to the victims of online child abuse as the modus operandi of the Bureau is to first take the destitute and neglected children into its custody and only then provide services to these children.
Helplines play a very important role where victims can lodge their complaints and get advice. The FIA runs a cybercrime helpline numbered “1991”. The Child Protection Bureau Punjab, the KP Child Protection & Welfare Commission and the Sindh Child Protection Authority operate a helpline with the same number “1121” in respective provinces. The Ministry of Human Rights, which is a parent department of the Child Protection Institute, operates a helpline “1099” in ICT. Civil society organisations also run helplines, such as Digital Rights Foundation, which operates a free cyber harassment helpline “0800-39393”, provide legal advice, psychological counselling and a referral system. Rozan operates a Rozan Counselling Helpline (RCHL) “0304-1111741” and offers counselling services where children and adults can call and share their concerns related to emotional, sexual and reproductive health, violence against women (VAW) and girls, and child sexual abuse (CSA).
National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC)
The National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) is a monitoring and oversight body constituted under NCRC Act, 2017 having a national mandate for matters related to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of children’s rights throughout Pakistan. The function of the Commission is to review existing or proposed laws and administrative instruments, conduct research, raise public awareness and advise on policy issues affecting children in Pakistan. The Commission can investigate violations of the rights of the child and examine any factors that impede the enjoyment of the rights of the child, such as violence, abuse and exploitation, trafficking, torture, pornography and prostitution, and recommend appropriate remedial measures. Complaints can be made by telephone, email, through the website or through the Prime Minister Performance Delivery Unit.
The Commission has been highlighting the issue of child online protection with key stakeholders and is advocating for a stronger measures to protect children from OCSEA on various platforms.
Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT)
The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training is the federal ministry mandated to develop national cohesion in educational policies and reforms, set educational standards, promote equity and cohesion, achieve universal literacy, coordinate academic assessment across Pakistan, etc. The National Curriculum Council (NCC) was established in 2015. The ministry is leading the development of a National Curriculum for Pakistan (formerly known as the Single National Curriculum) that covers four aspects of a quality curriculum, including standards, textbooks, teacher training and examination reforms. The curriculum focuses on life skills and pays some attention to child protection. Work is underway to include cyber-bullying in the curriculum by 2023 (ACTED 2022). Overall, the Ministry has a very important role to play and the curriculum must include the topic of child online protection, which should also address OCSEA and provide a reporting mechanism and training modules for teachers to teach students about safe and responsible online behaviour. The Ministry should also raise public awareness about the importance of online safety for children.
Federal Ministries and Provincial Departments
The Ministry of Interior is the administrative ministry of the FIA and the ICT police. It is primarily responsible for internal policies, the security of the state, the administration of the internal affairs of the state and the support of the government in territorial matters.
The Ministry of Human Rights at the federal level is the parent Ministry of the Child Protection Institute, mandated to establish and strengthen the necessary institutional mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Ministry of Human Rights has launched a five-year National Action Plan on Human Rights and Business (2021-2026), which includes specific actions related to children’s rights, but does not specifically address the issue of OCSEA.
Provincial departments such as Home Department, the Department of Social Affairs and the Department of Human Rights are important stakeholders in the administration of law enforcement and child protection agencies and have overarching roles and responsibilities.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialised agency for ICT. ITU supports all relevant stakeholders in their efforts to create a safe and empowering online environment for children and young people, enabling them to fully exercise their rights. Child Online Protection (COP) is an initiative launched by the ITU in November 2008 as part of the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) to protect children worldwide from cyber threats (77). ITU supports States in developing, adopting and implementing national frameworks and comprehensive strategies to Child Online Protection (COP), conducts research and provides awareness and capacity building for stakeholders (78).
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
UNICEF is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. UNICEF advocates for child online protection and safety both in Pakistan and globally. UNICEF advocates for necessary laws and regulations and promotes the use of acceptable safety measures to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation in the digital world (79).
International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL)
The International Criminal Police Organization, commonly known as INTERPOL, is an intergovernmental organisation with 195 member countries designed to facilitate the widest possible mutual assistance among all law enforcement agencies and to ensure that police services around the world can communicate securely with each other (80).
INTERPOL’s Child Sexual Exploitation Database
INTERPOL’s child sexual exploitation image and video database is an intelligence and investigative tool that enables specialised investigators to share data on child sexual abuse cases (81). By analysing the digital, visual and audio content of photos and videos using image and video matching software, investigators can instantly make connections between victims, abusers and locations. The database avoids duplication and saves valuable time by letting investigators know if a series of images has already been discovered or identified in another country, or if it has similar characteristics to other images. It also allows specialised investigators from more than 68 countries to exchange information and share data with their colleagues around the world. This database contains more than 4.3 million images and videos and has helped identify more than 30,000 victims worldwide (Interpol 2022).
Civil Society Organisations
NGOs, INGOs and the media play a very important role in promoting child online protection and children’s safety agenda. They are not only watchdogs, but also raise awareness about the harms and dangers of ICT on children. The Digital Rights Foundation, for example, is a research-based NGO that focuses on ICT to support human rights, digital governance and democratic processes. Sahil monitors child sexual abuse cases, including victims of OCSEA. Zingadi Trust conducts digital safety workshops in schools and has also organised seminars to raise awareness on safe internet use. There are other examples of good work being done by different organisations in Pakistan.
ECPAT is one of the leading INGOs working internationally on child online protection. Other organisations include Child Rights Connect, Save the Children, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), Terre Des Hommes, Plan International, etc.
WeProtect Global Alliance
The WePROTECT Global Alliance is an international alliance that works globally to end the sexual exploitation of children online. The Alliance is registered as an independent organisation. It brings together governments, law enforcement agencies, civil society organisations and private sector companies to share information and coordinate efforts to identify and protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. A Model National Response (MNR) developed by the Alliance helps countries establish and implement a coordinated national response preventing and tackling online child sexual exploitation.
WeProtect Model National Response
WeProtect Global Alliance Model National Response (MNR) provides a comprehensive blueprint for effectively addressing online child sexual exploitation and abuse at the national level.
The Framework outlines the priority areas of intervention for nations, focusing on the following:
POLICY AND GOVERNANCE
Highest level national commitment to child sexual exploitation and abuse prevention and response
Effective and successful child sexual exploitation and abuse investigations, convictions and offender management
Appropriate support services for children and young people
Prevention of child sexual exploitation and abuse
Industry engaged in developing solutions to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse
COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA
Awareness raised among the public, professionals and policymakers
(See Annexure-1 for the Full Framework)
South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC)
Pakistan is a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), a regional network of government agencies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders working to end all forms of violence against children in South Asia, including child sexual abuse and exploitation.
There are a number of companies providing information and communication technology services, including mobile operators, internet service providers, telecommunication companies, user-generated content and social media providers, data hosting companies, etc., that play an important role in the field of child online protection. Telenor, one of the leading telecommunications companies in Pakistan, partnered with UNICEF in 2022 to promote safe and responsible internet use among children, caregivers and educators through awareness raising and capacity building (82).
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Tiktok, etc. have blocked hundreds of keywords related to child sexual abuse material on their platforms (83). Social networks, messaging platforms and search engines such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, MySpace and Google block and report offensive and abusive material through filters, privacy settings and complaint mechanisms. Since 2011, many social media platforms have used Photo DNA technology to scan every uploaded photo and control the spread of child sexual abuse material. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing also block searches for illegal material to control the distribution of such videos, photos and content, and use splash pages to warn users when they are about to access illegal or harmful content.
In 2021, Apple had announced a plan to scan photos stored by users in iCloud for CSAM. The tool was meant to be privacy-preserving and allow the company to flag potentially problematic and abusive content without revealing anything else (84). But it soon came under criticism because the surveillance capability itself could be abused to undermine the privacy and security of iCloud users around the world. In early September 2021, Apple announced that it would pause the rollout of the feature. However, in December 2022, company says it is discontinuing the CSAM detection tool for iCloud photos in response to the feedback and advice it has received. Instead, Apple is now focusing its anti-CSAM efforts and investments on its “Communication Safety” features to stop child exploitation before it happens or becomes entrenched, and reduce the creation of new CSAM.
Challenges and Issues
Given the dramatic increase in the number of children using ICT, there are a large number of children who are at risk from technology facilitated violence against children. This requires a good understanding of the issues involved and timely solutions to address OCSEA. This section discusses a number of issues and challenges that require the attention of key stakeholders.
Generational and Knowledge Gap between Parents and Children
The generational gap in internet use between children and parents is very large. The biggest challenge with the increase in online activity is that children are participating in things online and doing things at home that many parents do not know about or are not familiar with. There are many new games, apps, websites, social networks, etc. There is concern that increasing access to and use of electronic media is having harmful effects. This becomes serious when parents are no longer able to understand their children’s experiences or protect and support them effectively.
Covid-19 Increased the risks of Children’s Addiction to ICT
Children spent hours at home in front of the screens of tablets, smart phones and computers playing electronic games during covid-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that the sudden change in children’s lifestyle during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to serious consequences and the addiction of ICT (85). Moreover, many schools and parents in Pakistan had to make arrangements for online classes where children sat in front of screens for hours. As a result, the screen time of school children had also increased. While parents were busy with their work and other activities, it was not possible for parents to monitor children’s activities during classes, leaving children more vulnerable to OCSEA.
Changing Patterns of Usage of Technology
The fact that many activities that were formerly performed on fixed computers are now frequently performed on mobile devices with internet access further limits parents’ ability to protect their children (86). Parents are less able to supervise their children’s activities, implement filtering or blocking measures, or regulate the level of Internet access when children have access to such phones, which is the case for a growing number of kids. This changing pattern of use presents fundamentally different challenges that need to be considered when introducing protection or prevention strategies (87).
In a traditional society like Pakistan’s, parents and teachers find it difficult to talk about issues such as sex, molestation and sexual abuse of children because the subject is often tainted with shame and stigma and considered inappropriate. As a result of their silence, children remain vulnerable to online exploitation and abuse because they do not know how to cope and react when the perpetrators approach them. It is a common concern that children do not report cases of OCSEA because they are afraid of being blamed or not taken seriously. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed to ensure that children receive the support and protection they need. The other dimension of the cultural barrier is that many parents and family elders cannot come to terms with the fact that technology is eroding the traditional boundaries of the family. A father shot dead his 18-year-old daughter in Vano Ghari village in Sardaryab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, after a video of her dancing went viral on social media (88). So when there is no communication between children and parents and no proper supervision, children can engage in activities that are unacceptable to many in the family.
Unaware of the Harms and Risk sharing Personal Information Online
Clear boundaries used in the physical world to delineate different aspects or contexts of life do not necessarily exist or function in the same way online (89). Research from around the world has found that young people often feel safer disclosing highly sensitive personal information or engaging in sexualized behaviour online than they do offline. Online platforms, on the other hand, whether chat rooms, blogs, online games or social networks, deconstruct the traditional boundaries of privacy. Children conversing in the privacy of their own bedrooms may knowingly or unknowingly expose themselves to an unknown global audience, which can increase the risk of harm and exploitation (90).
Lack of Focus by Schools on Teaching Digital Skills
In most schools in Pakistan, computer education is part of the curriculum, but children are not adequately educated about the dangers and risks of ICT use and are not taught about how to protect themselves offline and online. Many teachers also do not have sufficient knowledge and skills. Digital skills for child safety are critical for ensuring that children are equipped to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly. By teaching children these skills, they can help children to protect them from online harm and empower them to make the most of the opportunities that technology provides. It is also worth noting that while the formal education system makes it possible to reach school-going children, not all children in Pakistan have access to formal education, but many of them now have access to mobile phones, and remain vulnerable.
Anonymity of Users
Many of the risks children face online stem from the fact that they cannot verify their age and that users remain anonymous on digital platforms. This causes two major problems: first, children interact freely with users of all ages without being aware of the age difference between them and the people they interact with. Secondly, minors may have unrestricted access to content that is inappropriate for their age, such as pornographic or violent content. UK regulator Ofcom warned in October that adult websites with explicit content are not doing enough to protect children (91). Few bother to do more than ask visitors to self-declare that they are over 18.
Detection of Technology Facilitated Violence against Children is Difficult
Moreover, violence against children perpetrated through the use of technology is more difficult to detect and combat than traditional forms of violence against children. It is challenging for law enforcement agencies to detect suspicious activities, identify perpetrators, investigate and prosecute illegal activities against children when these activities are committed using ICT. This is because technological advances allow internet users to surf anonymously on Tor network-based websites and conduct electronic transactions with virtual currencies that cannot be easily regulated by existing laws and regulations.
In addition, distributors and consumers of the CSAM have developed sophisticated, cross-platform strategies to avoid detection. They often use the most popular platforms to find a community of child abusers to whom they can offer the material in encrypted language. They share links on platforms to material that is visible to everyone, using encrypted language to evade the companies’ detection tools. They then direct interested consumers to more private channels where they can access the material, often via encrypted messaging apps or poorly monitored file-sharing services.
Limited Research and Evidence on OCSEA
Available research on OCSEA is limited in Pakistan. There appears to be no effort to collect systematic, regular and comprehensive data on the magnitude and nature of online and offline child sexual abuse, taking into account the new forms of online threats that children face today. Existing data available from FIA does not reflect the full scale of the problem, as it only focuses on cases reported online.
Inconsistent Application of Security Protocols by Technology Companies
The standards and security protocols of different technology companies are often applied differently. There are new platforms, start-ups and new technologies, for example social gaming and Mataverse. The most important goal for these new platforms is to grow and gain a market foothold. The same applies to new businesses. To achieve this, companies try to attract as many users as possible to their platforms. Therefore, the entry barriers to join the platform are kept as low as possible to ensure a smooth sign-up process. If too many hurdles are added, users will find the cost of trying with uncertain satisfaction levels too high and simply go elsewhere. For this reason, they keep the enrolment process as smooth as possible and forgo pre-screening measures such as parental consent assurances in the background.
Age ratings for apps are inconsistently enforced
The findings of Reviewing the Enforcement of App Age Ratings in Apple’s App Shop and Google Play, conducted by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) as part of an analysis of child safety in the two largest mobile app stores, show that app stores are not delivering on their promises to keep young users safe. Age ratings for apps are inconsistently enforced. For example, on Apple’s App Store, a 13-year-old can download apps with a 17+ age rating simply by clicking on a pop-up window to confirm they are 17+, even though Apple knows the user is 13 based on the age entered in their account. In addition, YouTube is rated 17+ on Apple, 13+ (“Teen”) on Google Play and 13+ in YouTube’s terms of service. Both app stores have not been transparent about how they set age ratings for apps, and the content of is inconsistent. For example, in Apple’s App Store has several content descriptions, including “Infrequent/mild sexual content and nudity” and “frequent/intense mature/suggestive themes”, while Google Play’s content descriptors for YouTube are “user interact” and “digital purchases”
Canadian Centre for Child Protection (2023)
Self Regulation and Voluntarily Measures are not Sufficient
The Centre for Digital Democracy (CDD) finds that social media platforms are still not doing enough to protect children, despite a flood of new safety features in its latest report released in November 2022 (95). The CDD researchers have analysed the strategies of the technology industry. These companies have introduced a flood of new tools, default navigation systems and AI software to improve protection against child sexual abuse material, problematic content and disinformation. However, technology platforms have been careful to ensure that the new safety systems do not significantly interfere with advertising practices and business models that target the lucrative youth demographic. The report concludes that security measures are fragmented and inconsistent. Most of the operations within these social media companies remain hidden from the public, leaving many unanswered questions about how the various safety protocols and youth-friendly policies actually work.
No Role of Child Protection Agencies
Child protection agencies exist in all provinces of Pakistan and are mandated to respond to and provide support to children who are at risk or in need of protection. Child protection agencies have a role to play especially when children come into contact with the law. From discussions with various child protection agencies, it appears that there is unfortunately no liaison and coordination with CCW FIA when it comes to cases of OCSEA. Child protection agencies are also significantly understaffed and have budgetary constraints that affect their work also.Many times they are dependent on support from development partners.
Poor Awareness and Understanding of OCSEA among Key Stakeholders
Awareness of the scale and severity of the OCSEA problem remains limited among key stakeholders. The main reason for this is that it is a new area for FIA and child protection workforce in Pakistan. Many people are not at all familiar with the problem, have a poor understanding of the legal framework and do not know how to respond and what role to play in combating OCSEA. This also applies to lawyers, prosecutors and judges. The subject is technical and one-off training sessions are not enough.
Limited Effectiveness of Helplines
In addition to the “1991” FIA cybercrime reporting helpline, there are a number of other helplines in Islamabad Capital Territory and provinces. The findings show that helplines are poorly linked to the FIA and other referral systems, making it very difficult for them to effectively help victims of OCSEA. In addition, helplines are often understaffed, have limited access to trained staff and lack the financial resources to be effective..
Mandatory Requirement for Physical Verification at FIA
The competent law enforcement agency for cybercrime in Pakistan is the FIA. While there is an option to start the registration process for a complaint online, anyone wishing to pursue the complaint must appear in person at their office to verify the complaint (FIA 2022). Secondly, the FIA has cybercrime departments in only 15 cities in the country, which makes the process very cumbersome if you have to travel out of your city to file a complaint.
Lack of Reporting by Victims and Families
Discussions with FIA and civil society organisations revealed a general reluctance to report OCSEA. One of the reasons for this reluctance is the shame and stigma associated with child sexual abuse. Many victims and their families prefer to remain silent (FIA 2022). Other reasons cited are the mandatory requirement to verify complaints, lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the reporting system and in the criminal justice system (Digital Rights Foundation 2022), as prosecution of child sexual exploitation and abuse cases risks re-victimisation of children if it relies heavily on child victims and their testimony in court and participation in criminal proceedings. This leads to cases not being reported or charges being withdrawn and statements recanted.
The FIA shared with the NCRC details of a case in which a man was arrested for financial fraud (FIA 2022). During a phone search, it was found that the arrested man had repeatedly sexually abused his minor relative and made videos of her. Further investigation revealed that the man had sold these videos on the internet. However, when the case was discussed with the victim’s family, they did not want to press charges as this would bring shame to the family.
Number of NCMEC cases Investigated is Low
Electronic service providers (Facebook, Google, etc.) refer OCSEA cases to NCMEC and NCMEC forwards these cases to the relevant law enforcement agency for necessary action.
|Country||# of Reports from NCMEC (2019)||# of Reports from NCMEC (2020)||% Increase in Reports from NCMEC||# of Reports Investigated by Law Enforcement||# of Reports from NCMEC to Investigated Cases per 100,000|
The table illustrates the dramatically low number of OCSEA cases investigated per year in Pakistan, India and the Philippines. In all these three countries, a total of 2,380 cases of OCSEA were investigated per 100,000 reports submitted by NCMEC. This basically shows that a significant number of NCMEC reports on OCSEA seem to disappear into an unregulated, unlawful and uninvestigated black hole. In addition, each country applies its own national laws when assessing the reported content. It also shows that the FIA is probably unable to cope with the sheer volume of reports it receives.
According to the FIA, apart from the number of cases it receives from the NCMEC, there are also real complications in investigations. For example, when the ECP reports a case to the NCMEC, in many cases the content is removed from the website. The users who uploaded and shared the content are often blocked. This is done from a fake account that is already closed. It is extremely difficult to track down the person. Another problem is that in most cases there is no complainant and it is difficult to find a victim, who in most cases is outside Pakistan. At the time of this study, FIA did not have access to the Interpol database on child sexual exploitation. FIA is in process to gain access to database and may receive it in 2023, which will be useful in investigating OCSEA cases. (FIA 2022)
Capacity Issues of FIA
The first problem is that the FIA has its offices in 15 cities of Pakistan. When cases are reported from outside these cities, it is not very easy for the FIA to act immediately and effectively because of the limited number of officials. The staff is already overburdened with the ever-increasing number of cases. The second problem is that many investigators do not have the necessary expertise or experience to deal with child-sensitive investigations (Digital Rights Foundation, 2022). Technology is constantly evolving, and investigating electronic crimes is a challenge. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen the investigative units under CCW of the FIA, which should provide regular training and orientation sessions for FIA staff and other officials involved in investigations.
It is important to note that current laws in Pakistan do not adequately address and criminalise all aspects of OCSEA, considering the significant physical and emotional harm it causes to the child. Viewing child pornography is not expressly punishable under law. Significant legislative gaps include unclear definition of key terms, lack of police involvement and registration of FIRs especially where there are no FIA offices, inadequate criminalisation, provision of effective remedies and rehabilitation to victims, support and protect victim as witnesses, lack of coordination with child protection agencies, content regulation, inadequate legal provisions for mandatory reporting, etc. Behind these shortcomings lie systemic challenges with overall weak child protection systems and institutional structures that struggle to effectively coordinate action against OCSEA. For example when someone files a complaint to PTA for blocking a website or content removal, PTA does not share information with FIA, and FIA struggles to obtain data from social media applications (96). Additionally, the development of deepfake technology is an example of the need for legislation to continually evolve as the tools people use to create and share CSAM change (97).
Lack of a Child Friendly Justice System
A child-friendly justice system is one that is specifically tailored to the unique needs and perspectives of children, who may have different experiences than adults. Various laws in Pakistan provide for exclusive courts for children in contact and conflict with the law. However only few children’s courts are notified and are not property equipped to provide effective support and justice to children in accordance with Pakistani laws and acceptable international standards. These include, for example, court procedures that are too complex for children, separate hearings, a lack of specialised resources for child victims and witnesses, and a general lack of sensitivity to the special needs of children in the justice process. There is a need to create a system where victims have access to justice that respects and effectively protects children’s rights.
Issues with Jurisdictions and Multiple Legal Systems
The threat that advances in information and communication technologies pose to the safety and protection of children is increasingly being recognised. The Government of Pakistan has taken some steps to address the issue, but much more is needed given the magnitude of the problem. Addressing the multidimensional threat posed by technology requires a holistic approach that includes adopting policies and legislative changes, as well as raising awareness, building capacity, strengthening child protection systems and forming partnerships with private, national and international companies.
Giving children the tools to protect themselves from the dangers of technology and to become aware of their responsibilities is probably the most effective way of safeguarding children’s rights in digital world. Some steps that can be taken are: educate children about online risks and potential dangers, report suspicious behaviour and cases of OCSEA, keep personal information private, use privacy settings, talk to trusted adults, etc. Children can also help raise awareness of the problem of OCSEA by passing on information to their peers and encouraging them to be vigilant and take action to protect themselves.
Parents and guardians need to first encourage open and honest communication with their children and be a supportive resource when they come forward with concerns about OCSEA. It is the responsibility of parents to educate their children about the dangers of OCSEA and to make them understand that it is never their fault if they become a victim.
One of the best-known tools that can help parents keep their children safe online is the use of parental controls, an umbrella term for a variety of different applications and settings that parents can use to monitor and restrict their children’s digital activities. Parental control tools allow parents to proactively protect their children.
Nayatel, an ISP, offers free parental control to its customers in Pakistan. The interface helps parents set up parental lock like an alarm on your smartphone (98). There is an additional Safe Web service that restricts access to harmful websites and content for children for an additional fee (99).
It is important that parents limit and control the time their children spend on screens. The more time children spend on screens, the unhealthier it is and the more prone they are to OCSEA. Parents also need to set ground rules for online behaviour, set expectations and discuss different forms of OCSEA with children. This helps to identify OCSEA and encourage them to report it.
Electronic Service Providers
The technology industry has a critical role to play in establishing the foundations for safer and more secure use of internet based services and other technologies – for today’s children and future generations. Businesses must put protecting children at the heart of their work, paying special attention and putting systems in place to address violations of children’s rights.
“Putting a duty on App Stores to identify children and prevent them from downloading apps where there is a high risk of grooming will focus company minds on ensuring the problem is tackled on their platforms.”
Andy Burrows, Head of Child Safety Online
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
There is a need for the development of innovative technological solutions that improve existing approaches to preventing and combating OCSEA or enable the development of new approaches. If ESP proactively shares its unique knowledge and offers technology-based solutions to relevant stakeholders, this will strengthen collective efforts to reduce OCSEA.
An example of a private initiative to detect online child sexual abuse material is the technology developed by Netclean, which works similar to an anti-virus programme (100). The software can be installed on any computer or network and will detect any images and videos that law enforcement agencies have classified as child sexual abuse material.
Technology companies should consider proactively detecting and eliminating CSAM and identifying grooming attempts and live-streamed CSAM by using technology tools such as PhotoDNA and API Arachnid. Age-protection solutions can help protect children from these harms by providing platforms with the information they need to enforce age-based rules and policies. Currently, there are two main methods to determine a user’s age: age verification and age estimation. Age verification describes procedures that validate the user’s age using official documents (such as a government-issued ID or credit card information) or a biometric face. Age estimation, on the other hand, is the process of predicting a person’s age based on various factors such as facial features, voice and behavioural patterns. Age estimation algorithms use machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to analyse data and make predictions about a person’s age.
In UK, Microsoft has teamed up with Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to install a red panic button on Internet browsers for users (101). When a user clicks on the panic button, a computer programme sends a message to the National Crime Police and calls up a tip page to report online sexual abuse. Microsoft provides parents with a range of information to educate their children about internet safety and discourage them from communicating online with strangers (102).
European Commission has developed a blocking mechanism for ISPs called the Child Sexual Abuse Anti-Distribution Filter, which is currently used by ISPs in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Malta, Norway and Sweden.
The FIA can work with ISPs to set up alert mechanisms when child abuse content is accessed through the search engines that enable the dark web. The mechanisms should also have programmes that detect the software and search engines used to access the Dark Web. In this way, the explicit content cannot only be blocked but also help in apprehending the perpetrators.
Government and Law Enforcement Agencies
It is strongly recommended that the CCW of the FIA be strengthened with additional human, budgetary and financial support. There is a need to invest in research and additional equipment and tools to detect, evaluate and analyse child sexual abuse material. Currently, the FIA does not have sufficient staff, experts and tools to collect and examine digital evidence at sufficient speed for the CCW to conduct proactive and victim-centred investigations and to cooperate internationally. The government should provide FIA the state-of-the-art equipment, and continuous training on new tools and emerging technologies is also essential.
It is recommended that the FIA establish a national database of child sexual abuse images and link it to the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database of INTERPOL.
The government needs to further strengthen the 1991 helpline established by CCW of FIA by providing them with more professional capacity, adequate resources and better accessibility to children through online technologies such as social media, online chat etc. It should also ensure better coordination with all other helplines at national and federal levels and be linked to Police and the child protection system. The helpline should be widely publicised, including in schools.
The overall response to children in need of protection must focus on child protection agencies and authorities rather than law enforcement alone. Direct contact with children and families should be led by trained professionals, as law enforcement agencies are not experts in children’s rights and child protection. There is a need to strengthen child protection agencies with staff and budgetary resources. Close cooperation of child protection workforce with law enforcement agencies will actually reduce the burden of FIA.
Capacity building trainings on child online protection should be provided to CCW FIA, child protection officers and social workers. These trainings may include understanding the issues, recognising child sexual abuse and exploitation, investigating and collecting evidence of cybercrimes against children, identifying and interviewing child victims, referral and coordination, and providing psychosocial support to victims.
Conduct training for justice professionals, including prosecutors, judges and lawyers, in case management and child-friendly justice. For many children in Pakistan, their experiences have led to feelings of shame and questioning can be a difficult and embarrassing process.
Coordination and collaboration are key to addressing and responding to OCSEA. There are several ministries, departments and agencies that are directly or indirectly responsible for working together against OCSEA in their respective areas of expertise. In addition, private companies and civil society organisations can play an important role in developing technical solutions to combat OCSEA. There is a need to support the development of clear mandates and standard operating procedures for the investigation of technology-facilitated OCSEA that detail the roles and responsibilities of all agencies and stakeholders involved.
The efforts of the National Task-Force on Prevention and Control of Cybercrimes against Children are commendable and need to be further developed. A new national policy with provincial action plans involving key stakeholders can serve as a long-term priority setting plan for Pakistan. It can be a valuable tool to help relevant stakeholders understand the scale of the problem and adopt coherent policies, procedures, standards, mechanisms, technologies and other responses. It can also promote cooperation and collaboration among relevant agencies, ministries, departments and provinces in all sectors.
It is recommended that MoITT revise its “National Cyber Security Policy 2021′ to address the issue of child online protection as part of the cyber security framework.
It is important that both the government and schools ensure that the topic of child online protection is part of the teaching modules for computer classes and that teachers receive adequate training.
The PTA should promote awareness of the importance of child online protection and the OCSEA among relevant private sector entities, including internet and mobile service providers, to improve understanding of the risks to children, the legal framework and internalisation of child protection policies. In addition, PTA should share the details of cases with the FIA if someone files a complaint with PTA for blocking the website or content removal.
Legislative Bodies: Parliament and Provincial Assemblies
The Government should expedite the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which deals with the OCSEA. The proposed Bill addresses several gaps in the current legal framework by explicitly criminalising certain offences of online child sexual exploitation and abuse. The Bill needs to include and specify the role of child protection agencies that have a mandate to provide child protection services, introduce a reporting requirement for companies to CCW when they discover CSAM on their platforms, include the role of the police and the filing of FIRs at police stations, lay down provisions, specifying the comprehensive support that child victims should receive during investigation, prosecution and follow-up, including protection of child victims serving as witnesses in court proceedings, allowing in camera testimony when necessary, psychosocial support, etc.
The penalty in the PECA 2016 for child sexual abuse material (child pornography) and all provincial laws must be made consistent with and similar to the penalty prescribed in the Section 292C of the PPC, 1860.
It is recommended to review the various definitions and terms used for child online protection in Pakistan and globally. Based on this review, the PPC, PECA and provincial laws should be amended to introduce uniform definitions for child online protection.
Federal and provincial child protection laws need to be amended to empower child protection agencies to develop a child protection system that links children in contact and conflict with the law to vital social services and fair justice systems.
There is a need to involve the private sector in legislative reform. As one of the key players in efforts to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse, the private sector, especially the technology industry, should be involved in discussions on legislative reforms. This can facilitate the drafting of effective legislation, while increasing the awareness and willingness of the private sector to step up efforts to address online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
US companies are required by law to report child sexual abuse material to the NCMEC or risk a fine of up to $300,000 (103). On 11 May 2022, the European Commission proposed a law to force digital companies to find, report and remove online child sexual abuse material circulating on their platforms (104). Google, Apple and Meta’s WhatsApp and Instagram could face court orders to track down photos and videos of child abuse, otherwise face hefty fines of up to 6 percent of their global turnover. The companies would also have to crack down on grooming – conversations in which abusers try to contact children inappropriately.
In order to prosecute and investigate OCSEA cases across national borders, the government must rely heavily on extraterritorial jurisdiction clauses and informal and formal channels of cooperation with law enforcement agencies. The importance of international cooperation in identifying victims and perpetrators and uncovering links between investigations in different countries is crucial. Cross-sectoral and cross-border cooperation is necessary to combat the transnational and multijurisdictional nature of crime and to ensure that perpetrators cannot take advantage of differences between national laws regarding the legality of their actions and the available penalties.
In the context of the OCSEA, conflicts of jurisdiction may arise. The “rule of reason” is normally applied to resolve jurisdictional conflicts between states in cybercrime cases (105). It seeks to determine which state can reasonably demonstrate the closest connection to an offence by using territoriality as the determining factor. Given the difficulties in determining where the crime was committed, and given the fact that child sexual abuse on the Internet has an enormous impact on the physical and mental well-being of the victim, it does not seem appropriate to focus only on the location of the crime, given the various needs of the victim in the criminal justice process. Therefore, it is recommended that the “rule of reason” approach in such cases should not only focus on the closest connection to the territory of a state, but must also determine which state can best serve the interests of the child victim (106).
INTERPOL has developed specific skills and resources to combat crimes against children and provides training and promotes best practice for police in its member countries, including to help develop police skills in relation to OCSEA (107). FIA should further strengthen cooperation with INTERPOL and use the expertise available of INTERPOL needed to meet today’s challenges.
The government should accelerate its efforts to gain access to INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation Database of images and videos to ensure effective response and proactive surveillance and avoid duplication of law enforcement efforts.
Operation Tantalio, launched by the Spanish National Police and coordinated by INTERPOL and Europol, involved authorities from 15 countries in Central and South America and Europe. The operation, which began in 2016, investigated the sharing of child sexual abuse material via mobile messaging applications and has led to 38 arrests in Latin America and Europe as of April 2017 (108).
There is a need to work more closely with global technology platforms and build on existing cooperation mechanisms to ensure that the digital evidence needed in OCSEA cases can be collected quickly and efficiently, including in response to data requests and content removal procedures.
The government should seek to strengthen cooperation and strategic partnerships with international non-governmental organisations and benefit from their expertise.
The superior courts should develop their rules for dealing with children, which apply to all subordinate courts, to ensure the best interests of children in accordance with international human rights law and standards, and to ensure that children have prompt access to justice and remedies and have the right to participation, the right to fairness, the right to rehabilitation, the right to non-discrimination and the right to privacy.
The judiciary should ensure that cases involving children as victims and witnesses are given high priority and processed as expeditiously as possible to avoid unnecessary delays and adjournments.
It is recommended that arrangements be made for OCSEA cases that the testimony of child victim is recorded via video link and the victim is not exposed to the accused or the court. If it is necessary to present a child in court, separate and safe waiting areas should be provided for child victims and witnesses without direct contact with the accused during the trial.
Holding regular courses on the issue of child online protection is a necessary step that judicial academies in Pakistan can take to raise awareness and educate judges on the legal, social and psychological aspects of protecting children online. Training programmes can cover a wide range of topics, including the legal framework for child online protection in Pakistan, the types of online threats children face, the impact of online abuse on children’s mental health and well-being, and best practices for investigating and prosecuting cases of child online exploitation. Judicial academies in Pakistan can collaborate with experts in the field of child online protection to design and deliver training programmes that provide judges with a comprehensive understanding of the issue.
National Human Rights Institutes (NHRIs)
NHRIs, especially NCRC, can raise awareness about the dangers that children face online and offline and how to stay safe by collaborating with PTA and PEMRA. It is recommended that NHRIs use commonly accepted terminology in relation to OCSAE so that information and ideas can be clearly communicated.
To enhance understanding of the purpose and provisions of the OPSC and General Comment No. 25, NHRIs should develop materials and conduct awareness programmes with key stakeholders on Pakistan’s obligation and the number of actions to be taken in accordance with international treaties when cyber crimes are committed against children.
NHRIs should thoroughly review the Lanzarote Convention, the Budapest Convention and other treaties with regard to their status in Pakistan and recommend that the Government of Pakistan take the necessary measures to combat OCSEA.
NHRIs can monitor online platforms to ensure that they are in compliance with human rights standards and direct authorities to take remedial action and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
The NCRC should include the issue of child online protection and OCSEA in its priority area of work and examine the implementation of policy, law and child rights violations in practice.
NHRIs can conduct research to better understand the specific challenges that children face online and develop evidence-based solutions to address these challenges.
Civil Society Organisations
Civil society organisations should raise awareness among children, families, schools and other stakeholders about the harms and risks associated with the use of information and communication technologies and educate them on how to protect children and the need for urgent action.
Civil society organisations should develop a strong advocacy and lobbying strategy to address the issue of child online protection and OCSEA, and advocate for the passage of the pending Criminal Law Amendment Bill to amend PECA 2016.
Conduct quantitative and qualitative research on child online protection and OCSEA to understand the prevalence and impact on children, families and society and identify various bottlenecks in the implementation of existing policies, programmes and interventions and identify areas for improvement. Additionally there is a need to do research on victimology, offender profiling and new technologies.
CSOs can build partnerships with other organisations and agencies involved in child online protection, such as INGOs, child protection workforce, law enforcement, schools lawyers, etc to ensure a coordinated and effective response.
Civil society organisations may consider translating international treaties to disseminate them to the public and key stakeholders.
Measures should be taken to ensure ethical, informed and balanced media coverage that respects privacy and confidentiality and puts the victim’s best interests as the priority consideration.
Media campaigns highlighting the issue and importance of child online protection by working with media influencers, celebrities and famous media personalities to promote the child safety agenda.
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